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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Martha Shapiro

I officiated at a funeral this morning for a woman named Martha Shapiro – Masha bas Yosef ע"ה - who had passed away at the age of 107.

Although I did not have the privilege of knowing Martha, I remember reading her article in the paper last December and telling my wife how struck I was by her unusual life and the description of her Kosher kitchen. Two remarkable traits stood out as a learned about her life. One trait, was a personality that was truly loving and caring and sweet; the second was the ability to be happy with her portion and not to be jealous of others.

At every funeral we read an ancient prayer affirming that G-d is in control and that there is no reason to be jealous or resentful of what we don’t have and what others do. Martha lived that prayer with her caring and her modest living.

It is only with those two traits that a person could possibly run a household that was so open and welcoming. The Torah teaches that if someone honors their parents they will merit long lives. Martha welcomed her own mother into her home along with her sister and her sister’s children.

Martha Bloom Shapiro was born in 1908 in Przasnysz, Poland, not too far from Warsaw. At the age of three she immigrated with her parents Leba and Joseph to Baltimore and soon thereafter to Newport News. She married Charles Shapiro in 1939 and lived in Newport News for a total of 104 years.

I was frankly humbled to stand here eulogizing a woman who lived through times that I can only read about. What words of wisdom could I possibly share? How can I possibly relate to a woman born in Pruzhnitz and a woman who truly lived through the entire American experience?

I decided to quote the Rabbi in Pruzhnitz, where Masha was born. His name was Rav Avraham Lichtstein and he was a nephew the legendary Chassidic leaders, the Rebbe Reb Zishe and the Rebbe Reb Elimelech. He recorded his thoughts on the week’s Torah portion in his Kanfei Nesharim.

In Parshas Korach the Jewish people were struck by a plague after the narcissistic rebellion of Korach and his men. They accused Moshe of “Killing the Nation of G-d”. Moshe needed to explain to the people that by quashing the selfish rebellion of Korach he wasn’t killing G-d’s nation, he was ensuring its continuity. If we are obsessed with this world we will not be able to live as Jews and care for and love others as Jews should. In a dramatic and desperate moment Moshe sent Aaron with incense to stop the plague. Aaron stood between the living and the dead and he stopped the plague.

The Pruzhnitzer Rav explained that this idea of ‘standing between the Living and the dead’ was more than just logistics. Aaron had a job of standing between the living and the dead. Too often those who are living are consumed with selfishness and greed and a lack of perspective. Once we are in the next world we can look back and realize just how transient and unimportant everything was. But souls are not holier. G-d places us here in this world to fulfill a mission. We can only fulfill that mission as living and breathing human beings.

Aaron’s task was to stand between the living and the dead. He had to take the perspectives of those who are no longer here and somehow communicate them to those here in this world.

That, I believe was Martha. I think that reflects on the two traits that struck me about Martha: The ability to be care about others and the ability to appreciate life even when it is not easy.

Martha could have been pardoned for embracing this world – she spent more time here than almost anyone else we will encounter – but Martha did not become obsessed with this world. She said, “There’s a lot of stuff you can do without, and you feel better when you’re without it”. She forgot the name of the grocery store that her parents’ ran but she remembered her children, her family, her involvement with the Jewish community, and the ability to exercise love and satisfaction by viewing life from a heavenly perspective.

Martha truly stood between the living and the dead. She was a link to a generation that nobody else has seen. And she did it well. The prayers we will say affirming G-d’s role in our lives are the same that were said by her Rabbi Pruzhnitz 107 years ago. Martha was a link in Jewish continuity, not only in Hapton, but for the Jewish nation.

It is up to us to be the next link. To stand between the living and those who have passed away, and to carry her message for the next one hundred years.

May we merit to see the day when there is no more suffering and G-d wipes away the tears from all of our faces.

Posted on 06/17 at 05:20 AM • Permalink
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Meet Rabbi Sender Haber

Rabbi Sender Haber is the Rabbi of the B'nai Israel Congregation in Norfolk, VA. He is well known throughout Hampton Roads, having arrived over twelve years ago as one of the original four members of the Norfolk Area Community Kollel. In that capacity, Rabbi Haber was involved in community wide programming, teaching, and outreach. He has inspired many Jews to expand their Jewish identity and increase their love of Torah and commitment to its observance. Everyone who knows Rabbi Haber is touched by his breadth of Torah knowledge and his ability to convey the wisdom of the ages in such a way as to make those esoteric writings accessible to persons of all levels of experience and a variety of backgrounds.

Rabbi Haber has served in a number of capacities during his years in Norfolk. Since 2003 Rabbi Haber has been a teacher of Jewish Studies at Toras Chaim Day School in Portsmouth, teaching boys and girls of all ages, with a focus on Gemara, Halacha, and Chumash. He has also taught at Yeshivas Aish Kodesh and Bina High School in Norfolk, and served as Assistant Rabbi of B’nai Israel for 6 years. He also serves as the Rabbi of the “Lost Tribe,” Tidewater’s Jewish Motorcycle group! While handling all of these responsibilities, he has continued to participate in numerous Chavrusos (one-on-one learning partnerships) covering a wide range of topics and writings.

Rabbi Haber and his wife Chamie have been married for thirteen years. They have four children, Minna (9), Moshe (6), Ely (4), and Akiva Meir, born in August of 2012. They both come from rabbinic families steeped in Torah, Kiruv and Chesed. Rabbi Haber received his Rabbinic Ordination (Yoreh Yoreh) from Rabbi Sender Rosenbloom and Rabbi Mordechai Freidlander of the Jerusalem Beth Din. He was awarded a Teaching Certificate by Torah Umesorah Association for Jewish Day Schools in 2004 and again in 2009. In addition, Rabbi Haber has spent over a decade studying Talmud, Jewish Law, and ethics in some of the world’s most prestigious Yeshivos including Beth Medrash Gavoha in Lakewood, NJ and Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Haber can be contacted through the Synagogue office at 757-627-7358, or through e-mail at